Disclosure: The Hot Springs tourism office provided complimentary admission to Mammoth Site of Hot Springs for me and my family. All opinions and thoughts expressed here are my own.
I’ve never had more than a passing interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. But ever since I read about Hudson-Meng Bison Kill site in Nebraska, my interest was piqued on major archeological digs in the Midwest. What would it be like to see a massive dig site in person?
More than 60 Columbian and woolly mammoths have been identified there, as well as a number surprising (to me) fossils of camels, llamas and giant short-faced bears, to name just a couple here.
What to expect
Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief: It’s in a climate-controlled building (AKA air-conditioned).
You’ll want to take a tour, which includes a short film in the beginning and a guided walk around the “in-situ” exhibit (fancy talk for bones being on display as they were discovered).
You get headphones to wear so you can hear your guide. My 3-year-old hated them with a passion.
Photography is allowed, but you’re encouraged to wait until after the tour so that you don’t miss whatever the guide is showing next. It’s so tempting, though, to want to snap photos in the moment.
After the tour, you’re free to roam, then proceed to the next door. It’s full of interesting replicas, including a mammoth model and a walk-in mammoth bone hut. There’s a gift shop full of books, stuffed animals and apparel.
We lucked out and saw Mammoth Site Excavation Committee members at work during our visit. However, the people who timed their visit about 30 minutes after us missed them during their lunch break. Time your visit around the noon hour.
There picnic tables for lunch time, if you packed accordingly. The tables aren’t far from an outdoor work site.
Near Mammoth Site is the restaurant Woolly’s Western Grill. It’s a kid-friendly place to get a bite to eat.
Bringing little ones here
My kids are 3 and 5, so not exactly at the grade levels that have been studying any of this in school. That said, they’ve at least read “Magic Treehouse” books and know a thing or two about woolly Mammoths and other prehistoric creatures, so they’ve got that going.
My 3-year-old daughter, Mooch, lost interest early on in the tour; our 5-year-old fared better. The tour guide provides a lot of facts, but there’s very little hands-on things to keep the truly young interested.
I think one of the best options for families with little kids is to register them in one of the kids activities offered there – in the summer, there are two types of junior paleontologist classes, which sound like the perfect hands-on learning my kids would like; unfortunately, it didn’t fit with our travel schedule. There’s also an Atlatl Throwing Experience that sounded intriguing.
If you go
Mammoth Site of Hot Springs
Where: 1800 US 18 Bypass, Hot Springs, South Dakota
Hours: Open year-round, hours vary depending on the time of year. Details
Cost: Adults (13+), $10.14; seniors (60+), $8.29; kids (4-12), $7.37; kids 3 and younger, FREE. Summer classes are $10-$20.
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Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:
Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)
Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)
Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)
Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)
The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)
Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)
Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)
Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)
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